Gear Shed

Grooming Essentials for Backpacking and Camping

Ten lightweight, inexpensive products to keep you clean and happy on the trail

Clean up and relax after a day spent playing in the mud.     Photo: Cavin/Flickr

One of the best parts of trekking into the wilderness is leaving behind the detritus of civilized life—shaving kit, comb, dental floss, deodorant. But let’s face it: the great outdoors is a grimy, buggy, skin-scorching, sweat-inducing place, and a small quiver of personal-care items can make the difference between enjoying the sunset and sticking your sunburned head in a lake. From combating blisters to mosquitoes to body funk, these goods have got you covered. Minimalist long-haulers, take note: everything here weighs less than five ounces.

REI Micro Shower Kit ($16.50)

It’s hard to beat a plastic bag for packing toiletries into the backcountry, but REI does with its slim, one-quart Micro Shower Kit. The tough nylon is far more durable than a Ziploc, a water-resistant liner contains wet items and spills—and it weighs just three ounces. Plus, the handsome honey and red exterior means you’ll never have to fumble around for your toothbrush after dark. $16.50, rei.com

Sawyer Premium Sunblock with Insect Repellant ($2.99)

Unless you’re headed to the heart of mosquito country or the blistering high desert, Sawyer’s Premium Sunblock with Insect Repellant packs a space-saving one-two punch. It wards off bugs for eight hours with IR-3535—a repellent that, unlike DEET, won’t damage synthetic clothing or gear and doesn’t need to be washed off at the end of the day. It’s also a safer bet for slathering on children and those with sensitive skin. Add waterproof SPF 30, aloe, and vitamin E, and skin has everything it needs to take on the trail. From $2.99, cabelas.com

After Bite Xtra ($3.99)

Even the most careful camper can get bit—or, worse, stung. After Bite’s Xtra formula takes care of both. Baking soda and ammonia neutralize itching and venom from mosquitoes, ants, bees, and wasps while tea tree oil provides soothing relief. Trekking to the beach? It also works on jellyfish welts (just be sure to rinse thoroughly with seawater or vinegar first to remove any tentacles). $3.99, drugstore.com

Badger Balm Organic Sore Muscle Rub ($5.99)

Hiking and sleeping under the stars can take a toll on bodies accustomed to pavement and mattresses. Badger Balm Organic Sore Muscle Rub increases circulation with cayenne extract and ginger essential oil, dispelling lactic acid while warming and relieving sore spots. It’s especially good on tired feet, where olive oil and beeswax help keep skin strong to face the next day’s jaunt. Just don’t use it on broken skin or sensitive spots unless you want to literally feel the burn. From 5.99, badgerbalm.com

New-Skin Liquid Spray Bandage ($5.99)

Minor cuts, scrapes, and blisters are bound to happen in the backcountry. Save the first-aid kit for emergencies and use New-Skin Liquid Spray Bandage instead. This gentle (read: barely stings) antiseptic kills germs, then dries down to a thin, flexible, waterproof-breathable polymer film that protects and seals broken skin. And unlike regular Band-Aids, it won’t get soggy or grimy or fall off and litter the trail. Deeper cut or epic blister? New-Skin’s original Liquid Bandage paints on where you need it. $5.99, drugstore.com

Gold Bond Baby Powder ($5.50)

Savvy hikers have long used baby powder to prevent blisters: dust a little on before hitting the trail, and it absorbs moisture while giving skin just enough slip to reduce rubbing. A less well-known application: the ultimate fast-and-light shower substitute. Gold Bond’s Baby Powder also contains kaolin clay, so it’s excellent at soaking up oil and sweat and loosening trail grit. Just liberally sprinkle onto grimy limbs, wait a couple minutes while the powder gets to work, then brush off. Bonus: it also mops up greasy scalps on multi-day treks. $5.50, cvs.com

Yes to Cucumbers On-the-Go Facial Wipes ($2.99)

Sometimes there’s just no substitute for a moist towelette after hiking through tall, itch-inducing grass or for getting hands really clean before dinner around the campfire. We’ve tried many, and Yes to Cucumbers On-the-Go Facial Wipes are the best. Scrubby, compostable fabric sloughs off a day’s worth of trail, glycerin and aloe restore skin’s natural protective barriers, and green tea and cucumber calm irritation. If you’ve only got room for one little luxury, pick this one. $2.99 for ten, yestocarrots.com

PackTowl Personal Towel ($9.95)

Whether you’re planning a dip in the water or a quick rinse from your water bottle, PackTowl’s Personal Towel has you covered. It’s not as plush as terry cloth, but the tough, antibacterial-treated poly-nylon fabric absorbs four times as much water and dries in a fraction of the time. We like it in size large: 16-by-36 inches, it’s big enough for a full dry down but packs to the size of a couple Clif bars and weighs a reasonable four ounces. Or, for waterside lounging, the beach-towel-size 36-by-59 XXL provides ample space to spread out but none of the soggy bulk. From $9.95, backcountry.com

Lush Karma Komba Solid Shampoo Bar ($15.90)

If your camping trip includes the luxury of running water, make the most of it with Lush’s Karma Komba solid shampoo bar. Not only is this little biodegradable puck compact, lightweight (two ounces), and spill-proof, it’s loaded with great-smelling and insect-deterring natural oils—citronella, geranium, lemongrass, patchouli, and pine. The nubby texture makes it great for scrubbing bodies, too, no washcloth required. Your fellow campers will thank you. $15.90 with travel tin, lush.com

Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner ($59.95)

Prefer to forego bathing altogether on long, ultralight missions? No problem—except where your sleeping bag or bivy sack is concerned. Contain your funk with Cocoon’s Silk Mummy Liner. Made from 100 percent—you guessed it—silk, this liner unobtrusively slips into most mummy bags, then slips back out so you can wash away a trip’s worth of sweat, grease, sunscreen, and repellent. If that’s still not a good enough reason to pack the extra 4.7 ounces, consider that it also boosts bag warmth by nearly ten degrees. From $59.95, backcountry.com

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